Two miles off the coast of Japan’s Takehara city in the Hiroshima Prefecture, there exists a small island which was a mere ghost for decades. The location has gained notoriety in recent years as a wholly unique tourist attraction. This island has been informally dubbed Usagi Jima, meaning Rabbit Island. Roaming its 700.000 square meters are the island’s permanent inhabitants: over a thousand feral rabbits.
Life on the Rabbit Island seems like a dream come true for animals. They are free from all natural predators, spend all their time relaxing while eager visitors photograph them, and the consistent influx of gawking tourists has kept the staggering population well-fed.
But the answer to how this unnatural anomaly occurred is still up in the air. Several theories gained traction over the years, with the island’s infamous history being at the base of most of them. In 1929, the Japanese Imperial Army began manufacturing thousands of tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and phosgene, which were later used against Chinese soldiers and civilians in the 1930s and 1940s, killing around 80.000 people. Because of its use as a military location, the island did not appear on Japanese maps. According to The Guardian, rabbits were imported to the island for testing purposes. After the second World War, the weapons manufacturing was halted and dismantled. This led some to believe workers might have set the captive rabbits loose on the island, where they procreated freely for decades.
However, experts disagree with this notion. Professor of Japanese politics at the University of California, Ellis Krauss, claims that all rabbits at the facility were destroyed following Japan’s post-war occupation.
“The test rabbits were all euthanized by the Americans when they came to the island during the Occupation… about 200 of the poor things were being [used] in experiments by the Japanese,” said Krauss.
One other story sticks out as both less dramatic but more likely. In 1971 eight rabbits may have been released by school students during a field trip to the island. The island has strict laws against hunting and the ownership of cats and dogs. Due to this lack of natural predators, the animals were able to breed like the proverbial rabbits they are and quickly grow their population to the point it’s at today.
The island has shed its dark history of suffering, but a new era of hardship might be just around the corner for Rabbit Island. Researchers have warned that the overwhelming number of rabbits has depleted the island’s natural resources and ecosystem. Due to visitors overfeeding the animals, the population of rabbits has boomed to unsustainable levels. They are given the wrong types of food, leaving animals with short lifespans and health problems. The edible vegetation rabbits need to survive has been almost completely scavenged to the point of crisis. Because of this, when visitors stop coming rabbits start dying. And it takes a mere rainy day to keep tourists away.